August 28, 2014

I don’t mind being wrong.


I don’t mind being wrong. I don’t mind writing things, and publishing them, and then later realizing they were in fact completely or partially wrong. I don’t mind someone reading something I wrote and disagreeing with it, or even thinking I’m an idiot. (Though I do at times feel it is my job as an artist to activate honest or vulnerable reactions in and around my words.) When I read something, I am not looking for it to tell me how things are. I want to consider it, question it, decide for myself, agree or disagree, be provoked or refuse to be provoked. I want to read two different, intelligent, well-written texts that argue almost opposite points of view and consider all the ramifications of how they relate to each other, conflict and intertwine. I’m not saying there is no truth, but rather truth is the thoughts we choose to fight for, and in doing so we must continuously consider other possible perspectives on each matter. I fear that people who want to be right see thought as a sport and they want to win. I’ve never been good at winning, so perhaps when I say ‘I don’t mind being wrong’ it is only a form of sour grapes. But I wonder: how is it possible to really know what one is doing? To write something and think: now I’ve really got it. Not to hope one might still think something remarkably different in the future, might still have the good fortune to completely contradict oneself. At the same time, I don’t want to only be wrong, I don’t want to get more and more wrong the further I go, or to be my own worst enemy. And realizing I was wrong about something in the past does not mean that suddenly now I’ve got it all figured out. Of course, constantly changing my mind about every single thing all the time is exhausting, so I agree (with myself) to think a few things for the time being. Time heals all wounds.


August 26, 2014

I have fallen in lust with this universe...



"The novelist Robert Anton Wilson once described art as an act of seduction. If this is true, then Polyamorous Love Song is Jacob Wren's sly invitation into a world of sex cults, neorealist filmmaking, and radical biological-warfare. It entices you with an alternate universe where all your strangest fantasies are not just a reality, but a new way of life for people all over the world. Contrary to my best judgement, I have fallen in lust with this universe... along with everyone in it."

- Alison as part of McNally Robinson's staff picks


August 22, 2014

A short text on certain aspects of collaboration


All of my work has been in (some sort of) collaboration and yet I’ve always found these experiences of working together difficult, often unpleasant, and continue mainly because I have some ideological belief in it: that in working together with other people it is possible to make something more compelling, more tender, more unexpected, more vulnerable than it is possible to make alone. I don’t know if I genuinely believe this (anymore), in reality, but I continue to believe it in some other sense: as an ideal or fantasy. Then the question becomes: how does this ideal or fantasy interact with the difficulty of the reality? What do I do with my frustrations and disappointments? How do I lower my expectations while at the same time working towards something worthwhile?

Or a different kind of question: how does one live and take energy from one’s own loneliness? I know, as a teenager, I thought it perfectly reasonable to assume that working with others would make me feel less alienated, less isolated. For the most part it has not. I now fear I pinned my teenage hopes on the wrong misguided solution. I now wonder if there was some other question: how to be alienated together (from both each other and the world)? I associate being in a group with talking. What would it mean for me to associate it with silence? Or music? In a conversation about working in collectives, someone once told me there was a Columbian (I think it was Columbian) expression: “He with the most spit wins.” This made me laugh out loud in recognition. But am I even thinking about collectives anymore? What about leadership? What kind of leadership allows all members to flourish? Or a model where, for different things, at different times, we each take turns being in charge?

In a completely different text, I recently wrote: “I keep circling round and round this idea that what politics needs today is a different way of thinking about time, that the problem with Marxism is it was working towards victory in the future, while what we need is more like a victory of living together in mutual loneliness, a victory-in-the-present-as-future-that-will-never-come, which sounds frustrating, and probably is. But how to imagine this impossible present-future hybrid as not frustrating, as something good, something desirable, a struggle and strength worth having, as possible. Trying to imagine the things I am not yet able to imagine.”

A short text should end with a fantasy and the fantasy is as follows: I have an idea for how we should do it and you have an idea for how we should do it. I don’t much care for your idea and you don’t much care for mine. But we respect each other enough. So we try to think together what aspects of your idea are most important to you and what aspects of my idea are most important to me, to come up with a third idea that is so much more remarkable than anything either of us could ever come up with on our own. And we realize we have made a breakthrough, cherish this fact, want to keep going so it might someday happen again. And perhaps such things happen every day. Or perhaps togetherness really becomes magical when we leave, once and for all, the realm of ideas behind.


August 11, 2014

The Bookhug Interview with Jacob Wren author of Polyamorous Love Song

"And yet in that feeling that my position is marginal, there's also the hope that anything can happen..."


August 8, 2014

A convention-busting novel about breaking social and aesthetic norms.


"Polyamorous Love Song is a dream-like novel about the meaning and value of dreams, a convention-busting novel about breaking social and aesthetic norms. Wren has successfully married content and form, but it is important to remember to what end. Form is prescriptive. The value of a polyamorous love song would be the new kinds of love stories it would allow us to tell. This Polyamorous Love Song is dark, murky, anarchistic, but also deeply aspirational – a form to better reflect the conflicting desires of our lives and our dreams."

- Jade Colbert for The Globe and Mail.

[Read the rest of the review here.]


August 6, 2014

Twenty-one quotations on failure


He identified with what are usually called failures, he said. But what, he asked, is a failure? Perhaps a man with less than all the talents imaginable, but talented, more talented than many successful men. He has those gifts, he said, but he does not make use of them. He wastes them. So, he said, in essence he wastes his life. He was fascinated by all of those failures who wander around, especially on the fringes of the intellectual world, always with projects and books they mean to write, he said. There are many, he said, all over the place, but some of them are very interesting people, especially when they get older and know themselves well. I would search them out, he said, when I was young, as one seeks out the wise. There was a fellow, for instance, that I used to see often. In Poland. This man had made a career of being a student at the university, without ever being able to make up his mind to take the exams that he needed to finish his degree. In fact he left the university just before getting a degree in mathematics and had then left his fiancée waiting for him at the altar on their wedding day. He saw no particular merit in finishing anything. One night, Tardewski tells me, we were together and they introduce us to a woman that I like, that I like a lot. When he observes this he says to me: Ah, but how is it possible? haven’t you noticed her right ear? Her right ear? I answered him: You’re crazy, I don’t care. But then, take note, he told me, Tardewski. Take note. Look. At last I managed to look at what she had behind her ear. She had a horrible wart, or a wart anyway. Everything ended. A wart. Do you see? The guy was a devil. His function was to sabotage everyone else’s enthusiasm. He had a deep knowledge of human beings. Tardewski said that in his youth he had been very interested in people like that, in people, he said, that always saw more than they needed to. That’s what was at issue, he said, at bottom: a particular way of seeing. There was a Russian term, you must know it, he tells me, as I understand you are interested in the formalists: the term, in any case, is ostranenie. Yes, I tell him, it interests me, of course; I think that’s where Brecht got the idea of distancing. I never thought of that, Tardewski tells me. Brecht knew a lot about the theory of the Russian formalists and the whole experience of the Russian avant-garde in the twenties, I tell him, through Sergei Tretiakov, a really notable guy; he was the one who invented the theory of literatura fakta, which has since circulated so widely, that literature should work with raw documents, with the techniques of reporting. Fiction, said Tretiakov, I say to Tardewski, is the opiate of the people. He was a great friend of Brecht’s and it was through him that Brecht surely found out about the concept of ostranenie. Interesting, said Tardewski. But returning to what I was saying, that form of looking that I would call ostranenie: to be always outside, at some distance, in some other place, and thus to be able to see reality beyond the veil of custom and habit. Paradoxically, the tourist’s vision is like that, but so too, ultimately, is the philosopher’s vision. I mean, he said, that philosophy is definitely nothing other than that. It is constituted in that way, at least since Socrates. “What is this?” Right? Socrates’ questions everything, continually, with that sort of vision. That aberrant lucidity, of course, makes them sink deeper into failure. I was very interested in people like that, in my youth. They had a devilish enchantment for me. I was convinced that those individuals were the ones who exercised, he said, the true function of knowing, which is always destructive. But here we are at my house, Tardewski says now, going up to open the front gate.
- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration

I’m going to close with the notion of “utopian interruptions.” What I’m talking about is always tied to failure. It’s no accident that the figures that I invoke – Beckett has an aesthetic for failure, doesn’t he? So does Chekhov. So does Kafka. That wonderful letter that Benjamin writes to Gershom Scholem, July 1938: “You’ll never understand the purity and the beauty of Kafka if you don’t view him as a failure.” Of course, if it wasn’t for Max Brod, we wouldn’t even have the text. Kafka believed he was a failure through and through.

Or, as Beckett says in his last piece of prose fiction Worstwood Ho, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Like Sheldon Wolin’s fugitive democracy, prophetic religion is a fugitive affair – an empathetic and imaginative power that confronts hegemonic powers always operating. Prophetic religion is a profoundly tragicomic affair.

The dominant forms of religion are well-adjusted to greed and fear and bigotry. Hence well-adjusted to the indifference of the status quo toward poor and working people. Prophetic religion is an individual and collective performative praxis of maladjustment to greed, fear, and bigotry. For prophetic religion the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. Yet it is always tied to some failure – always. There are moments, like the 1960s in capitalist civilization or the 1980s in communist civilization that prophetic awakening takes place. It doesn’t last too long, because the powers-that-be are not just mighty, but they’re very clever and they dilute and incorporate in very seductive ways – or sometimes they just kill you!
– Cornel West, Prophetic Religion and the Future of Capitalist Civilization

Failure is a mystery. A man does not mesh somehow with time-place. He has savy, the ability to interpret the data collected by technicians, but he moves through the world like a ghost, never able to find the time-place and person to put anything into effect, to give it flesh in a three dimensional world. I could have been a successful bank robber, gangster, business executive, psychoanalyst, drug trafficker, explorer, bullfighter, but the conjuncture of circumstances was never there. Over the years I begin to doubt if my time will ever come. It will come, or it will not come. There is no use trying to force it. Attempts to break through have led to curbs, near disasters, warnings. I cultivate and alert passivity, as though watching an opponent for the slightest sign of weakness.
– William S. Burroughs, Interzone

D and N, who knew I’d begun working on a new novel, asked me what the novel was about and I told them it was a novel written by someone who didn’t know much about Texas because he didn’t know about Texas, a novel that didn’t really have much to say, a halfhearted attempt to come up with a series of groundless hypotheses, a mixture of the stream of consciousness technique, the paralysis of consciousness technique, and the derangement of consciousness technique, a novel that even a passing dog would laugh at, and after I said these things they rang true and my friends seemed perplexed, and I said the novel was going to be a disastrous failure to be mocked by everyone to which we toasted. But there was an advantage to writing with failure in mind, which was to say that failing to write a failure wouldn’t really be a failure, so the fear of failure wouldn’t weigh you down as heavily as you wrote.
– Jung Young Moon, Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River (translated by Yewon Jun)

Failure exists in relation to goals. Nature has no goals and so can’t fail. Humans have goals, and so they have to fail. Often the wonderful configurations produced by failure reveal the pettiness of the goals. Of course we have to go on striving for success, otherwise we could not genuinely fail. If Buster Keaton wasn’t genuinely trying to put up his house it wouldn’t be funny when it falls down on him.
– Cornelius Cardew

Everybody knows that failure is the key to everything. But then what’s next? If we know that failure is the way to get anything done that feels good, then it’s about getting the space to imagine the actual utopia that follows it. So yes, fail, but also allow yourself to imagine what could come next – not the perfect world inside of this world, but the perfect world that seems impossible. That is the thing that I hope comes out of a million failures.
– Erin Markey

I think it is necessary to educate the new generations in the value of defeat. In not being a social climber. In this world of vulgar and dishonest winners, of false prevaricators, in the face of this anthropology of the winner from afar I prefer the one who loses.
– Pier Paolo Pasolini

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
– Michael Jordan

Lacan is not this kind of poet of failure. The truly traumatic thing is that miracles – not in the religious sense but in the sense of free acts – do happen, but it’s very difficult to come to terms with them. So we should reject this idea of a poetry of failure. For Lacan, Real is not this kind of Thing-in-itself that we cannot approach; Real is, rather, freedom as a radical cut in the texture of reality.
– Slavoj Žižek

You’re going to make some mistakes. Every time you make something that somebody likes, your impulse is to remind them that if you hadn’t made some of these other things that they hated, you wouldn’t have been able to make the thing that they liked. The attitude toward the stuff they don’t like is so extreme because they don’t understand the role that it has in your development.
– Steven Soderbergh

The almond tree with its white blossoms teaches him that fruition is a sign of completion, the moment of failure to which everything aspires. The trees have fulfilled their cycle, turn white, click off, and die.
– Fanny Howe, The Needle’s Eye

In a neat paradox portrayed throughout these books, in a world where everything is on some level fraudulent, nothing is more authentic than failure itself.
– Christian Lorentzen, Considering the Novel in the Age of Obama

I assumed that everything would lead to complete failure, but I decided that didn't matter – that would be my life.
– Jasper Johns

Success and failure are greatly overrated. But failure gives you a whole lot more to talk about.
– Hildegard Knef

There's nothing that gets my heart going like the sense that I will fail.
- Miranda July

The greater the success, the more closely it verges on failure.
– Robert Bresson

Failure is very cleansing, and success is very confusing.
- M. Night Shyamalan

If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style.
– Quentin Crisp

Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.
- Oscar Wilde

I never lose. I either win or I learn.
- Nelson Mandela

Never a failure, always a lesson.
– Rihanna


August 4, 2014

The thing standing in for its opposite.


Anything can be corrupted, anything can be used as a cover for its opposite. The Vatican (and the inquisition) as Christianity that is basically the opposite of the teachings of Christ. Stalin as Communism that endlessly contradicts the more egalitarian desires of Marx. (The workers, not the state, should control the means of production.) America covertly toppling democratically elected leaders (Iran, Chile, the Congo) in the name of Democracy. You propose the dream of X, get others to believe in it, and I produce a nightmare while at the same time claiming my allegiance to X is true and real. And when someone says: that’s not X, that’s its opposite, I have them punished as a heretic or a terrorist. Is there any dream or plan or thinking that cannot be corrupted in precisely this manner?


August 2, 2014

50 year fragment


I had an idea. I would write a book and publish it on my 50th birthday. If I lived that long the mid-life crisis birthday would serve as a kind of deadline. The deadline came and went. It was going to be this book, but then I was unsure about this book and wondered if it could be some other book...